Q&A with Devin Grayson

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Devin Grayson (admiringly referred to as “Batwoman” by some) is a comic book writer, novelist and writer of video game scripts. She’s written for such titles as Gotham KnightsUSER and Nightwing, and her latest novel, Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams, will be published under Marvel and available later this year.

While working on my last article, 10 Talented Yet Under-Appreciated Women in the Comic Industry, I had the fortune of getting in touch with Grayson over email. She gave me so many awesome responses that I couldn’t just pick one and discard the rest.

Grayson discussed her experience getting into the comic industry, what it’s like to be female in the field (or, rather, what it’s like to be asked about it constantly by pesky journalists such as myself … heh …) and her favorite memories as a comic writer.

Fangirl: What is your official job title? Do you have a job title at DC?

Devin Grayson: I’m a freelance writer, also known as an independent contractor. Technically I’m my own boss – I set my own hours, pitch for, accept and reject projects at will, and am responsible for my own healthcare, taxes, and retirement plan. At DC, and most of the other comic publishers for whom I’ve done work, I’d be called (rather charmingly, I’ve always thought), “the Talent.” That’s a not a special compliment, though—it’s just what they call everyone on the creative side of things.

FG: What comic publishers have you worked for other than DC?

DG: My best-known work was published by DC, but I’ve also worked for Marvel, IDW, Dynamite, Zenescope, and I’m just about to publish a collected edition of what was originally a Vertigo miniseries, USER, through Image. Though readers sometimes imagine the comics publishing world in a constant state of surly competition, the truth is that it’s a fairly small industry, and most people move through it pretty fluidly.

FG: How did you come about getting into the comic industry?

DG: I’ve noticed that everyone’s path into this industry is really different. I came to comics quite late, falling in love with Batman after I’d already completed a college degree—I hadn’t actually so much as read a comic book before that. I sent writing samples into DC and started a correspondence with one of the editors and also cold-called the office and asked to speak with “the guy in charge of Batman.” They put me right through to Denny O’Neil, no questions asked! That would absolutely not happen today.

FG: Have you experienced any challenges in the comic book industry as a result of your gender? Are there any specific stories or examples you can remember experiencing since entering the field?

DG: For the first decade of my career in comics, the only gender issues I faced involved the industry press. They seemed not to know how to cover my work in any context beyond my gender. While my male colleagues got to talk about superheroes and the craft of writing, I was asked, over and over and over again, variations on this very question. It was rare for someone to interview me about the work I’d actually done; the conversation was always framed around my inclusion in the industry as a female, which eventually impacted the way readers saw me and even the kind of work I was offered, not to mention my will to live. (I’m joking, but questions about being a female in a male-dominated industry were the bane of my existence for a few years there).

*Ha! Fair enough, Grayson.*

Eventually, the press got better and my primary employer got worse. Social inclusion (or the lack thereof) is a deeply embedded part of corporate culture, and as such, it’s hugely influenced by the people in charge. There was a sweeping managerial restructuring while I was at DC, and eventually all of the people I’d worked with originally – the people who had given me a chance and championed my work and never seemed to think about my gender twice – moved on.

The people who came in next were different and … that was kind of it. Within a year of that new management taking over, I had been dismissed from all the monthly titles I was writing, hamstrung in every attempt to get something new off the ground and even had the one project that could have changed all of that handed over to a male colleague without explanation. Not all of that was about gender (it’s not uncommon for new management to clean out the stable of the people they’re replacing) but some of it absolutely was.

FG: As someone who’s worked for DC, do you believe the company has taken necessary strives to employ diverse writers, artists or editors, or to include diverse perspectives in its publications?

DG: God, no! They’re really struggling. And I say that with compassion. They want to do the right thing, of course, and do have a handful of hugely talented females working for them about whom I could not think more highly, but the problem is systemic, and personal.

Inclusion takes effort and dedication — you have to be genuinely excited about cultivating diverse voices and attracting a diverse readership; that has to be a goal, a passion. Just wanting the Internet to get off your back isn’t gonna cut it. If you’re approaching the whole issue with ambivalence and confusion and vaguely hurt feelings, no gesture, however well-meaning, is going to change the way people feel about what you’re doing.

And meanwhile, for contrast, female comic convention attendance is at an all-time high, female comic readership is an undeniable force, and Marvel, who I’m very proud and excited to currently be working for, is making authentically motivated (if still imperfect) strides in both female creator contribution and female character representation.

FG: Since you’ve entered the field, do you think you’ve seen a change in the way the comic book industry as a whole has strived to include diverse perspectives in comics?

DG: Yes, absolutely — in both directions, actually. When I started working in comics in the late nineties there was genuine interest in inclusion, a lot of which had dried up by the end of the aughts. Recently, things have started to move in the right direction again, and I have no doubt that the millennials will keep that progress on course. There are still some huge hurdles — we’re just getting started, really — but it feels different to me already. It’s partly because the market has become undeniably diverse and even people with no genuine investment in inclusion need to figure out how to make it work for them financially, and partly because we’re slowly but surely getting people better suited to pushing those agendas forward in positions of power.

FG: Do you have any advice for women thinking of entering the comic book industry?

DG: Stick together! The fight is far from over, and you’re going to need allies. Support and champion each other at every available opportunity. Your voice and vision are needed, never doubt that, but much like coming out, “breaking in” is something that you’ll find yourself having to do over and over again, mostly because your inclusion is still not seen as the norm.

FG: What has been the most memorable thing or event that has happened to you since you began as a comic writer?

DG: Wow, great question! I’ve met so many amazing people because of this job and gotten to travel all over the world. I love working from home, and I love getting to collaborate with some of the most talented artists in the world. The first time I wrote “BATMAN” and realized I was getting paid to decide what he was going to say next was an amazing moment, as was being asked to develop my own Batman monthly series. Holding my first published novel in my hands was an astonishing feeling, and watching artists bring characters that had previously existed only in my head to life in the pages of comic books was indescribable.

I think one of my all-time favorite memories, though, was attending the 2001 GLAAD Media Awards. It was a joyful, elegant event for a cause I cared about deeply; my work had been honored with a nomination, and I took my mom and aunt, who could not have been more excited for me. We danced with our shoes off, made new friends, had some celebrity encounters too spectacular to discuss in print, and because it was a multi-media event, I got to be a kind of comics ambassador, talking to people about the medium I love. I didn’t actually win, but I still remember it as a perfectly happy evening.

FG: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your experiences?

DG: If they’d like to know more about me or keep track of my upcoming work, they should feel free to visit my website at www.devingraysoncentral.com. The interview section is particularly informative, because it’s more or less chronological, and you can see me kind of learning how to talk about women’s issues with greater clarity over time.

And of course I would be being a bad freelancer if I didn’t mention that you can now pre-order my new, original Doctor Strange novel, The Fate of Dreams, on Amazon.

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